FIJI – PROBLEMS AND PERSONALITIES
Remote and lost in tropical antiquity, Fiji was seldom visited by foreigners until early last century when European traders in search of sandalwood called at the main islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. The 800 islands comprising Fiji were then known as the Cannibal Isles; they acquired their present name by Anglicisation of the word Viti.
Cannibalism persisted until the end of the last century, even after the arrival of Europeans. At about this time, King Cakabou proclaimed himself Paramount Chief of Fiji and offered the islands to various countries including Britain, United States and Germany, All refused until King Cakabou made one last plea to Queen Victoria who finally accepted the offer and in 1874 Fiji became part of the British Empire.
The new administrators made no attempt to alter native life in the islands. Instead they took a step which ultimately affected every facet of Fijian life. They encouraged immigration and between I879 and 1916 over 40,000 immigrants from India flooded into Fiji where they are now the dominant race.
In The Other Side of Paradise, politician and lawyer John Falvey explains European attitudes towards Fijian and Indian. The Indian caste system ceased to exist many years ago in Fiji, but Hindus and Moslems are as devout as ever. They have distinguished themselves in commerce and in the professions and two Indian politicians, S. M. Koya and K. C. Ramrahka, express the views of cane farmers towards the monopoly that the Colonial Sugar Company and its subsidiary, South Pacific Sugar Millers have in Fiji’s sugar industry. But John Falvey defends Australian enterprise in the islands, although he does voice disappointment at Australia’s recent refusal to grant Fiji a seven-million dollar loan.
Education is a major problem in Fiji. The Indians, who live in urban areas and appreciate the benefits of education, forfeit luxuries to give their children a good schooling. But most Fijians living in remote villages cannot afford to pay a teacher’s wages. Semessa Sikivou, Assistant Director of Education, and Ratu K. K. T. Mara, Leader of Government Business, see a hard road ahead in the development of widespread education. Mara feels that educational TV could be of particular value.
Racial differences have become apparent recently in Fijian union matters which – like Fijian politics – are otherwise clear of outside influences. The Fijian Government Workers Union has now split into Fijian and Indian segments because, as the Fijian leader Joepe Killilakeba points out, the Indian-dominated union was favouring Indian workers, Indian leader Mahomed Ramzan denies favouritism and says that whatever happens unions must not do anything to hinder the economic growth of the country. His opinion is not shared by Apasai Tora, the most flamboyant of the union leaders who feels that unions must be militant and so must Fijians.
He is supported by Fiji’s first political demonstrator, James Anthony, who returned to Fiji after seven years in Hawaii and the U.S. mainland where he gained a political science degree. He comes into conflict with politicians such as John Falvey over what he claims is excessive European representation in the parliament. Indian leaders K. C. Harare kha and S. M. Koya support his claims that there have been attempts to suppress a feeling of nationalism in Fiji.
James Anthony reflects that the Fijians, hy seeking to boost the islands’ tourist trade, are following a course set 30 years ago by the Hawaiians, and he can see little to prevent Fiji – for better or worse – becoming, in part at least, another Hawaii.
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